First Published: 2015-06-24

Football cheers replace gunfire echoes in Tripoli
Football offers joy this Ramadan in charity-organised tournament in Libyan capital aimed at giving Libyans a break from relentless conflict.
Middle East Online

Football unites Libyans

TRIPOLI - The cheers of football fans have replaced the echoes of gunfire in Tripoli this Ramadan in a charity-organised tournament aimed at giving Libyans a break from the relentless conflict.

Dozens of eager spectators turned out on Monday night for an eight-a-side game featuring young amateurs and former professionals in the capital, the second of three organised by a local charity.

Both teams' jerseys carried in large font the name of their country, which was plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 unseated long-time dictator Moamer Gathafi, who was later killed.

Warring militias are battling for influence and a share of Libya's vast oil wealth as rival parliaments and governments struggle to staunch a rising tide of jihadist militant activity.

"We lack peace and sport. We've been deprived of this atmosphere for two years but today we watch a match together as brothers," said Al-Aref bin Sassi, a 52-year-old trader, as he followed the action on the synthetic pitch.

"We can no longer support the war. It's time it finished," he added, as crowd members handed out hats and flags emblazoned with the message: "On the pitch for peace."

- 'Month of mercy' -

The games were organised by local charity H20 with US and EU funding in a bid to show that peace and coexistence are possible in a country reeling from brutal fighting, according to organiser Mohammed Mahmud Hamuda.

"We gathered old players and young people to promote a slogan that is the hope of the whole country," he said.

"The players come from different regions and we decided to organise the games during Ramadan, a month of mercy."

Since Ramadan began on June 17, a tacit truce has largely held between rival militias who had fought each other with increasing intensity in recent months, leaving hundreds dead.

The only major violence came at the weekend when Islamist militiamen moved in on Islamic State group fighters in the eastern city of Derna, with Libyan media reporting "dozens of deaths" among the extremists' ranks.

"We chose football to deliver our message because it is very popular in Libya," said Hamuda. "The sport allows people to interact, with honest rivalry and a common goal, which we in Libya need to achieve peace."

- Push for unity -

In Tripoli, which is controlled by the Islamist militia-led Fajr Libya alliance that has established its own government, the clamour of gun and rocket fire has receded, allowing locals to shop in markets packed with meat, fruit and vegetables for the Muslim fasting month.

The power supply is even back in most neighbourhoods in the capital.

Behind the rows of fans who cheer each goal during the game, the words "Free Libya" have been daubed in paint on a wall near a photograph of Gathafi, shadowed by his famous dark glasses, captioned: "Wanted criminal".

Many names of Libyan cities have been printed on banners hung from railings around the stadium, an idea H20 hopes will encourage unity among fans and players alike.

Hicham Zayyani said his teammates had come from around Libya.

"We can't do any more war. We need to address the situation," he said, his lips pursed with bitterness.

"We are good people."


Iraq takes control of two key Kirkuk oil fields

New UN envoy in Rabat to restart talks on WSahara

Hollande slams Trump's hardline stance on Iran nuclear deal

Mogadishu twin bomb death toll at 276

Lebanon promotes ‘back to public school’ drive

Netanyahu presses Russian defence minister on Iran

US-backed forces retake Raqa state hospital

Divided Iraq tests limited US influence

Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk governor's office

Iraqi forces seize airport, oil field from Kurds

Saudi Arabia sets conditions to role in Syria reconstruction

In tougher approach, US offers multimillion-dollar reward for Hezbollah operatives

EU ministers join forces in support of Iran deal

Batteries, tape to thank for defeating jihadists in Raqa

Palestinian Authority top official visits Gaza

Israel strikes Syrian anti-aircraft battery in response to shots

Qatar starts to feel pinch from sanctions

Last days of Raqa battles ‘toughest fighting yet’

Omani role has helped Iran but may not do much in crisis with US

Head of IS in Southeast Asia dead

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

US-backed forces announce ‘final phase’ of Raqa recapture

Suspicion of football corruption shows limits of Qatar’s ‘soft power’

Schools closed on first day of term in rebel-held Yemen

Iraqi forces in standoff with Kurds in oil-rich Kirkuk

Protests in southern Morocco over water shortages

Iran’s Zarif says Trump speech in violation of nuclear deal

In Egypt, illiteracy rates down but problem remains

ISIS regroups in Libya amid jihadist infighting

Egypt’s Nation’s Future Party seeks to build on youth vote

Qatar freezes assets of royal member over Gulf crisis

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terror cell

Syrian troops recapture city of Mayadeen from IS

Gulf countries voice support for Trump’s tough stance on Iran

Princess named to head Saudi sports federation

IS fighters surrender as defeat in Raqa nears

Former French culture minister picked to head UNESCO

Baghdad issues ultimatum to Kurds on Kirkuk

Trump tears into Iran, leaves nuclear deal hanging

Iranians respond with anger, mockery to Trump speech

Somalia's defense minister, army chief resign

EU says it must watch IS in North Africa 'very carefully'

NATO chief urges US, Turkey to 'find solutions' to row

Turkey deploys troops to Syria's rebel-held Idlib

Four jihadists killed in Mali